Camille Pissarro and the Battle for Impressionism

Camille Pissarro and the Battle for Impressionism
It is sometimes difficult to imagine the often extreme poverty that many of the Impressionists endured during their life times — considering their paintings now sell for vast sums of money. Only a few had private incomes or family wealth; Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot were exceptions, immune to the hardships (although not the criticisms) that other Impressionists had to face on a daily basis. Camille Pissarro suffered doubly. His family had money, but disapproved of his choice to be an artist (Pissarro would have described it as a compulsion), and although there was never any doubt that he was well loved, on the death of his father, he was disinherited, his mother promising only to cover his meager rent. But the family had another insurmountable objection long before that. And that was Pissarro’s choice of mistress and the mother of his children. Camille Pissarro and his wife, Julie Vellay, 1877, Pontoise. Unknown author By 1857, he was sharing a studio at 56, Rue Lamartine with a gentle mannered Danish painter, David Jacobsen. The rest of the Pissarro family were living in Passy on the outskirts of Paris. Pissarro visited his family often and very soon became infatuated with their newly employed maid, Julie Vellay. She was a typical bonne. Employed through an agency, these women were usually untrained, unsophisticated country girls, innocent to the sometimes laxer morals of city life. Hailing from Grancy in Burgundy, Vellay was slim and graceful with the high complexion of a girl used to the outdoors. Pissarro was soon entranced by her. They met in secret on her days off and within a year, the inevitable happened and Julie was pregnant. This was not a typical artist/model affair. Pissarro truly loved Julie, but his mother was much more than scandalized, she was utterly ashamed that Camille could even contemplate a liaison with a bonne, let alone acknowledge a child by her. From that moment on, neither Julie, nor the children they produced over Pissarro’s lifetime, existed in his mother’s eyes. There was no question of marriage until his parents had died – even then, they married quietly in London. But Pissarro had proved to be unpredictable, long before he met his wife. Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas, Camille Pissarro, 1856

Lead photo credit : Camille Pissarro, c. 1900. Unidentified photographer

More in Bête Noir, Café Guerbois, Camille Pissaro, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Julie Vellay

Previous Article Letter from Paris: May 11, 2022 News Digest
Next Article A Visit to the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris

After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.